Best Baitcasting Reels

Geoff Stadnyk in Fishing Reels on

I’ll be honest with you. Baitcasters can be damn intimidating reels. At least that’s what I thought when I first saw and then eventually tried one. The first time I used one, the only thing I knew about them was that the pros used em, they were hard to cast, and my friend had just purchased one.

Needless to say, that first cast and the subsequent few did end in backlash. See, a baitcaster is a purpose-built reel that’s all about control. The irony is that control means you have a greater opportunity to lose control.

In the end, though, the truth is that although baitcasters do take some getting used to, the mysteries and allure surrounding them and their difficulty are largely blown out of proportion. The allure is there, no doubt, but in the end, baitcasters can be an absolute joy to use.

Casting one successfully to a lunker largemouth is pure fishing dynamite.

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What is a baitcasting reel?

If you’ve never used a baitcasting reel or are new to fishing, you may be asking what one even is.

A baitcasting reel, also known as a revolving spool reel, is a reel that relies on a geared, bearing-aided spool. The gears in a baitcasting reel allow the spool to rotate multiple times with one rotation of the reel’s handle.

Unlike other reel designs, the baitcasting spool is also allowed to spin freely and separate from the lure pulling drag on the line. The reel also doesn’t feed the line with the reciprocating motion spinning reels rely on. Instead, a baitcasting reel relies on a spool control knob and braking system to control the speed of the spool and the line separately.

Another clear difference between the baitcaster and its spinning counterpart is that a baitcasting reel sits directly on top of a specific baitcasting rod. This allows the spool to lay horizontally. This means that when casting a baitcasting reel, the line spools out directly over the rod instead of feeding out to the left or right side. This left or right pull on a conventional spinning reel often causes line loops.

What makes a baitcasting reel great to use?

Turn on any Major League Pro Bass Fishing tournament, and you’re bound to see a majority of the competitors hooking into fish on their baitcasters. This is because, although a bit more difficult to use, baitcasters can hold more and heavier line and allow for longer casts. They are also better at throwing heavier lures when targeting large fish. Finally, they have excellent control, as the spool is controlled separately from the line that is slowed down or sped up with the thumb.

Although all of these things come into play, ask any fisherman why they use them, and the number one thing you’ll hear is that last one, control.

When a baitcaster is properly fine-tuned, applying pressure on the line with the dominant hand’s thumb can become almost intuitive. That fine motor control and feeling can allow the angler to drop the lure almost exactly where they want it.

Close-up of a male hand with a fishing rod and a baitcasting reel. A Caucasian man sips a yellow braided line into the winding rings on a rod. Preparing for fishing. Selective focus.

Are baitcasting reels difficult to use?

Difficult is a relative word. Baitcasters are certainly more challenging to use, though, than other reel types. Because of this they are not always recommended for beginning anglers.

A proper cast with a baitcasting reel requires the angler to control the spool speed and the lure placement. For a new fisherman, that can sometimes be a bit much to handle. If the spool is allowed to rotate faster than the line is being thrown, the result is a backlash of line and tangled mess.

With that said, in the past few years, reel manufacturers have taken strides in baitcasting reel designs. Aside from better braking systems designed to slow down the rotation of the spool, many new baitcasters come equipped with anti-backlash technology.

What is backlash, and how to avoid it?

We’ve covered this a bit, but backlash occurs when the spool of a baitcaster is allowed to spin too fast and subsequently throws out line faster than the lure and the line in front of it can move. This results in a bird’s nest of line on the reel, similar to that experienced on a spinning reel.

The fear of backlash is the number one reason anglers shy away from baitcasters, but the dreaded birdsnest can be avoided with a few tips.

When looking to avoid backlash, the simplest thing is selecting the correct gear. That’s the rod, line, reel, and lure.

A shorter medium-action rod will give you the strength and control to cast your lure fast and far enough to keep the spool speed behind it.

When it comes to the reel, look for one that’s small enough for you to handle and that, if you’re lucky, has anti-backlash technology. At a minimum, select a reel with a good braking system.

With the reel selected, if you’re an advanced fisherman or looking to up your game, go with a braided line. If you’re worried about backlash, though, mono is the way to go.

Finally, heavier lures can catch bigger, more selective fish, and they can also cast farther. That farther cast will keep your line moving away from the free spinning spool and reduce backlash.

Aside from the proper gear, you’ll want to practice practice practice, so adjust the braking system and start with short casts. Once you’re comfortable with those, see how far you can get.

Pro tip: A solid tip when practicing any casting is to move to the lawn. You don’t have the stress of your buddies watching you or the fear of losing a fish or time on the water.

What benefits do baitcasting reels have over spinning reels?

The clear advantage baitcasters have over spinning reels is better line control. Better line control means a more accurate and often delicately placed cast, even when using a heavier lure. Anglers using baitcasters can often stop a lure directly off a dock or bank or exactly where they want.

Another benefit baitcasters have over their counterparts is their compact design. Sitting wide, low, and directly on top of the rod, baitcasters can often hold more line for their small size than their spinning reel counterparts.

This low, wide design also makes the baitcaster an excellent reel for anglers looking for a setup that feels natural in hand. That raw feel and weldability bring us back to that word that baitcasters love more than anything else, control.

How to choose the best baitcasting reel

Looking at picking the perfect baitcasting reel for your fishing adventures? There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Material

As with most other reels, baitcasters are made out of either aluminum or graphite or a combination of both materials.

Aluminum is going to be more durable but also heavier and generally more expensive than graphite. Consider your style of fishing and casting and the kind of use you’ll be putting your reel through.

Also, durability is always something to look for, but not if that means at the upgraded cost you won’t be able to afford those expensive Yamamoto plastics or if your tired wrists and forearms will have you packing it in early every day

Weight/ Size

Weight and size are always something to consider when picking a reel of any variety. Of course, if you’re inshore fishing the salt with your baitcaster, you’ll want something waterproof and sturdy. In that case, weight and size won’t be much of an issue, but if you are patrolling the docks of your local lake all day, you’ll want to consider finding the lightest, smallest quality reel you can get away with.

In general baitcaster weight will increase with their reel size. That weight will usually start around 5 oz and work its way up about one oz at a time for every reel size. Considering weight in ounces may have you thinking it’s not a big difference, but an extra few ounces adds up after those hundreds of casts.

Pro Tip: If you feel comfortable casting, consider sizing down your baitcaster and throwing on a braided line. It will cast damn there a mile, and you’ll be able to fit more than enough line to bounce your lure under any dock you can find.
Remember though, a braided line is more likely to backlash, so really consider your casting style and ability.

Angler on the river with close up baitcasting reel in hilights

Gear Ratio

Your reel’s gear ratio determines how quickly your baitcaster will pick up line up off the water when retrieving. So gear ratio will play a huge part, whether you’re pulling your line in for another cast, setting your hook, or dragging that rig in to entice a strike.

When selecting gear ratio, remember that the first number through the decimal is the number of rotations of the spool. The second number is the number of rotations of the handle. That means a 1.1:1 gear ratio would have your spool spinning 1.1 times for every handle rotation.

The gear ratio most available on the market for baitcasters is 6.4:1. That should work for most applications, but if you like to fish your gear slowly, consider a 5.4:1. If you’re likely fishing salt with bait, you can go even slower. If you prefer to rip your lure through the topwater, bump up to 7.1:1.

Line Capacity

If you’re using braided line with your baitcaster, and you should be if you are a practiced caster, line capacity won’t be much of an issue. Either way, though, it’s always good to know what your reel can handle.

Baitcasting reels tend to hold more line than spinning reels. Generally speaking, on the small end, your ultralight reel will be a size 50 and hold about 65 yards of 12-pound mono. Your Medium-sized baitcasting reel will be a size 200 and hold about 200 yards of 12-pound mono. Finally, on the large end, your saltwater applications, you’re looking at a size 400. That size reel should handle about 330 yards of 12-pound mono.

Braking System

All baitcasting reels come fitted with a braking system. The braking system is how an angler slows down the spool rotation when casting. This works similar to how a car’s braking system slows down the rotation of the wheels.

When purchasing a reel, look for one with the most advanced system possible in your budget range. If possible, that means going with a centrifugal brake system over a less expensive magnetic one.

Remember, a correct setup braking system and the resistance on the spool keeps the ol’ backlash to a minimum. A more advanced system will allow for more finely tuned braking, and some even come equipped with anti-backlash control.

Drag System

The drag system of the baitcaster is usually contained within the housing of the reel. This system is operated via a dial on the right or left side just under the handle.

Baitcasters usually come with a star drag system, easily recognized by the star shape of the dial. A good rule of thumb when setting the drag on a baitcaster is to have it at about 25 percent of the line breaking strength.

When purchasing a reel and considering the drag capabilities, keep in mind the species you’ll be targeting. The line weight you’ll be using to target them will change accordingly, and the drag capabilities will need to follow.

Bearings

Generally speaking, I like to think the more bearings in a reel, the better. That’s especially true in a baitcaster, as the rotation of the spool and a smooth release is paramount to the reel working correctly. More bearings generally mean a smoother, more predictable reel.

However, keep in mind that more bearings of lower quality or in a reel of lower quality material may not mean a smoother setup. So, if you’re looking for a smooth reel day in and day out, look for a reel with good construction and a high number of high-quality bearings.

If you’re planning on taking your baitcaster to saltwater, make sure those bearings are corrosion-resistant.

Price

When considering any reel purchase, you’ll want to take into account the price. Price ultimately comes down to the quality of the reel, type of reel, and the application it will be used for.

Although there are inexpensive reels on the market you can surely count on, the baitcaster is a precision tool. More expensive baitcasters will generally be lighter and easier to use, have a better drag and braking system, and balance better on the rod. These are all very important to baitcasting success.

Conclusion

The allure of the baitcaster. The reel all of the pros use to catch all of the fish.

When considering purchasing a baitcaster, step back and do yourself a favor. That favor is to forget everything you’ve ever heard, then to step forward and to buy one.

Are they more difficult to cast? Yes, they are, but with practice and the selection of the proper set up a baitcasting reel will have you fishing and feeling like a pro in no time.

Product Reviews

Best Budget

The new design of KastKing's Royale Legend GT offers killer performance and comfort at a reasonable price. Baitcasting is all about the feel, and the Royale Legend offers outstanding performance packed into one of the most comfortable affordable reels on the market.

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The GT in the KastKing Royale Legend’s name stands for grand touch, and with a name like that, you won’t be surprised to hear that comfort and grip are at the forefront of this affordable reel. KastKing designed the Royale Legend GT with a low profile design and synthetic soft grips mounted on a sturdy 95.5 mm 6061 aluminum handle.

Beyond the comfort, Kastking also thought about performance. Featuring 5+1 double-shielded stainless steel bearings, brass gearing, and a magnetic braking system, the Royale is a reel that’s performance will outdo its price.

Keep in mind that although made with quality internals, this reel exterior is mostly plastic, so it might not last as long as a more expensive reel.

What We Like
Price - The performance for price on this one is off the charts. It won't be a baitcaster you'll use season after season, but at such a reasonable price, you can just purchase more than one.
Comfort - Baitcasting is all about comfort, and KastKing designed this reel with comfort in mind.
Looks - This reel looks the part. Nothing about this affordable reel looks cheap.
Know Before Buying
Housing - This reel is housed in plastic and may not last as long as other more expensive baitcasters.

Best Price to Quality

As usual, KastKing doesn't disappoint when it comes to making quality reels at reasonable prices. The MegaJaws has mega smooth casting, easy adjustability, adaptive spool tension, and everything else you're looking for in a lightweight, affordable design.

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The kastKing MegaJaws is a baitcasting reel that delivers big in more than just its name. Enjoy its smooth casting thanks to KastKings Super Long-Cast System and the 11+1 bearings, enjoy its adaptable color-coded gear ratio that will allow you to dial your fishing in just the way you want it, and cast all day thanks to the MegaJaws “palm perfect ergonomic engineering.”

With looks that could kill, a price that won’t break your bank, and more features than most in its class, we feel comfortable highly recommending the MegaJaws. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better reel for the money.

What We Like
Gear Ratios - The MegaJaws comes in gear ratios from 5.4:1 all the way up to 9.1:1.
Looks - With its sleek easy to use shark-inspired design and cork handles, this reel won't only have the fishing rolling in, it'll also have your mates drooling.
Know Before Buying
Brake System - This reel gives you a lot for your money. The one thing it doesn't give you is a centrifugal brake system. The magnetic system is tried and true but not entirely as trustworthy as some anglers like.

Best Premium

Designed with strength and performance in mind, the Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast baitcasting reel is as good as they come. This reel has the cranking power and line capacity to throw on even the hardest fighting fish. From fresh to salt, this reel is beyond exceptional.

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The Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast is a premium casting reel that provides anglers with pure power for casting and retrieving the biggest baits for the biggest fish.

This quiet cranking, smooth casting, easy drag setting, low profile workhorse of a reel will handle anything you throw on it. And thanks to its rigid X2-Craftic alloy frame, HPCR stainless steel bearings, power stack carbon matrix drag system, and duraclutch design, you’ll be handling this reel day in and day out. This thing was built for big fish and made to last.

What We Like
Build Quality - This reel was built Ford tough and has everything you'd expect on a high-dollar premium reel.
Power Stack Drag System - The drag on this thing is clutch, providing unparalleled smoothness and extreme pressure when you need it.
HPCR Bearings - Although this thing only comes with 5+1 bearings, using HPCR means you'll have a smooth action day in and out.
Casting Distance - With the right line on it, you can expect to cast lures on this thing as far as a football field.
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Size - This thing was made to catch large fish. Think Muskie. That means it won't be as easy to palm as your smaller reels.
Fish - It'll handle any fish you get on the line, but it won't hook the fish on the line for you!

Best Overall

Pflueger pushed the boat out when it came to the President XT Low Profile baitcasting reel. The light, compact, low-profile reel looks great, performs better, and can take the punishment doing it all. The Pflueger President is a name you can trust, and the XT is a workhorse you'll want to use season after season.

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The Pflueger President XT low profile baitcaster is a quick-to-dial-in, set it and forget reel for the fisherman who wants the best performance they can get from a brand they can trust.

Pflueger developed the President with their new light and balanced XT Low profile design, stuck in 9 corrosion-resistant bearings, added an externally adjustable brake that controls spool rotation and backlash, and topped it all off with an aircraft-grade aluminum handle with soft-touch grips.

If you’re looking for a super-smooth, easily tunable, do it all reel, look no further.

When purchasing the Pflueger President XT, keep in mind that it only comes with a right and reel design. Therefore, many right-handed anglers will need to cast with their right hand and then reel with the same hand.

What We Like
Durability - This reel could take Chuck Norris on in a fight and win. The Aluminum construction and stainless steel handle mean this thing will last.
Braking System - Pflueger made the most out of its magnetic braking system. You'll love how smooth this reel is.
Low Profile Reel - Baitcasting for bass is all about finesse. This reel's low profile means it can fit comfortably in your hand, allowing you to do those precision casts.
Know Before Buying
Reel Side - Like most baitcasters, this reels handle is not reversible. Keep in mind that you can only purchase this model with a right-hand reel.

Best Baitcaster for Salt

Finding a great dedicated saltwater baitcaster can be a chore. We're happy to tell you that if you're looking for a far casting, smooth action, deep spooled inshore baitcaster with tournament grade drag, look no further.

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Daiwa’s Coastal TW inshore baitcaster is a workhorse of a reel that will pull in anything you can get on the line. This reel is strong, durable, and made for big fish with its aircraft-grade aluminum deep spool, high-strength gears, custom EVA handle knobs, and corrosion-resistant bearings.

This reel casts smooth and far with zero runs thanks to its 7 CRBB+1 bearing system, advanced finely tunable magnetic braking system, and anti-backlash technology.

Keep in mind when purchasing this reel that you may want to grease and oil it before its first use.

What We Like
Anti Backlash - Inshore casting means throwing things far. With anti-backlash technology, you won't have too many other things to focus on.
Deep Spool - The deep spool on this one means you'll be able to throw on more than enough line for whatever kind of fishing you're doing.
CRBB Bearings - With corrosion-resistant bearings, you can expect this one to last as long as you need it.
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Maintenance - You'll want to grease this one early and often.

Also Recommended

Buying a casting reel can be an intimidating purchase. Ease your mind with the Abu Garcia Pro Max. This reel is tough as nails, adaptable to all skill levels, and light enough for even young anglers to fish it all day.

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The Abu Garcia Pro Max is a smooth and precise baitcasting reel. Its low-profile, small, and compact design delivers ease on the water cast after cast.

The simplicity of this reel, along with its 7+1 stainless steel bearings and MagTrax brake system, make this a smooth caster that’s great for beginners or anyone looking for a direct, accessible baitcaster.

Keep in mind when buying this one that the crank handles are a little on the short side. That adds to the compact design but may make this reel uncomfortable for anglers with larger hands.

What We Like
Size - This reel is small in all the right ways. You'll be able to cast this one all day.
Smooth Cast - The MagTrax brake system and the 7+1 stainless steel bearings will deliver smooth casting swing after swing.
Simplicity - The simplicity of this one is a good thing. This no-frills reel is all about getting the perfect cast and is excellent for newbies.
Know Before Buying
Durability - This reel is well built and solid for the price. It will feel just as sturdy as its more expensive competitors but may not be as smooth for as long.
Crank Handles - The crank handles are comfortable but may be a little on the short side for anglers with larger hands.
Geoff Stadnyk

Geoff started fishing as a child in the gorgeous lakes of Mammoth, while on family vacations. His fishing experience includes the use of fly rod and reel. Guided trips along the Madison and Gallatin rivers in Montana, the Frying Pan and Animus in Colorado, and the Deschutes river in Oregon have all paid off and helped make Geoff the angler and writer that he is today.

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